Don’t be like Oliver Twist

Published on: 1 Apr 2019

Justine Cooper [square]Negotiating budgets is never easy but there are ways that FMs can strengthen their case for finance and leadership, says Justine Cooper.

Remember the film Oliver!? The small boy approaches the forbidding Mr Bumble, raises his bowl and timidly says: “Please sir, I want some more.” The incredulous Mr Bumble replies “More?” and Oliver tries (and fails) to run away. When asking for money, don’t be like Oliver Twist. 

Remember the maxim: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Invest time in upfront planning so you sound knowledgeable and feel confident. Start at a high level and work down to the detail. 

Here are tips to help you own the conversation and ask confidently for what you need:

1 Seek first to understand

What is the strategy of the business? Does it want to invest in its locations or will it move elsewhere? Does the business have cash available to spend? Anything you ask for needs to be realistic and aligned to the overall direction of travel. There is no point in a major redecoration project if the company is about to change its corporate livery.

2 What’s in it for me?

Can you tell a story that appeals to your leadership? Know your audience and put yourself in their shoes. Think what they want to achieve and show how you can contribute to this through investment in the buildings. If the buildings host customer visits or events, think of the impact and impression. If the business focus is on saving money, show the ROI for your proposals. If it’s all about employee experience – demonstrate how your investment benefits employees. 

3 Have a plan 

Show the projected plans for the estate for future years as well as the forthcoming year for which you are discussing budgets. It’s easier for finance and leadership to buy into your plans if they see where they fit into the big picture.

4 Know your numbers

Prepare these in detail and be ready to substantiate them. Ensure any assumptions are clear and show how you used them in the calculations. For major investment requests, consider showing different cost options so leadership can choose between ‘gold, silver or bronze’ options. Demonstrate how you will secure the best value. If you have access to a procurement team, get help with this.

5 Prioritise! 

Show the criteria you’ve used to come to your recommendations. Safety-critical spend proposals should always be first, along with those where delaying investment risks critical infrastructure damage. Listing priorities makes it easier for finance and leadership to see where the line can be drawn.
6 Manage your audience

Start by seeking out senior leaders informally in advance or, if you can’t access them directly, members of their first line. Run your ideas past them and ask open questions to find out what matters to them. 
At your budget request meeting, you can refer to these conversations: “When I was speaking to so-and-so, they highlighted the importance of hosting customer events next year.”

This way you demonstrate you have listened and acted on what you have heard. Also present any feedback from your site occupiers. Good data backs up your proposals. After any meetings, complete your actions or respond quickly to leadership on any questions before someone else gets the budget instead.

Closing thoughts

No one likes having difficult conversations about money, but being well prepared will boost your confidence and reassure the leadership, who will then have faith in the accuracy of your numbers. Showing how you can contribute to the business through making the right choices on investing in your estate makes you less of an Oliver Twist and more of a trusted adviser. 

Justine Cooper is a committee member on the IWFM Procurement SIG and an experienced procurement, FM and consultancy professional

Image credit | Getty Images